Rules of the Green Game

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A few weeks ago I was invited by the host of the RTHK radio program 《1 2 3 show》 to share my experience founding Water for Free.  I specifically spoke about the fact that for over 4 years, Water for Free has been publicly demanding that MTR install water dispensers at each station, as this is obviously an essential part of fulfilling their CSR obligations.  Yet MTR has been turning a blind eye and instead continues  to profit from the sale of bottled water.

During the program, a listener left a message on the host’s Facebook page saying that s/he had updates about MTR’s policy regarding water dispensers but didn’t elaborate. We don’t know whether the listener was an employee of MTR or authorised to speak about the apparent unwillingness of MTR to install water dispensers at its stations. However,  in a visit organised by the Business Environmental Council (BEC) last year, MTR Corporation had a meeting with a whole bunch of ‘business friendly’ green groups – groups that will never pressure corporations in public to fulfil their CSR obligations because they rely heavily on corporate and government funding.  According to a meeting participant, the issue of installing water dispenser in MTR stations was described as “complicated” and further “study” would be carried out. A year after this meeting, we still can’t find a single water dispenser installed by MTR. What we continue to see are the never ending stacks of bottled water and drinks sold in almost every shop in every MTR station – both outside and inside the paid area. Even though passengers are not allowed to eat or drink inside the paid area.

For ‘business friendly’ green groups and green initiatives that rely on large corporations or charity foundations (many of which have close links to business interests or act as tax shelters) for funding, they have to be very careful when picking what environmental issues to address, in order to ensure that they do not adversely affect the business interests of the donors.  The first rule of the game is – don’t bite the hand that feeds you. (Greenpeace is one of the few green groups that maintains its independent voice by eschewing corporate and government funding).

Recently, the Ocean Park Conservation Fund filmed a video of an actress/ singer scooping garbage from the harbour. The video clearly shows her primarily scooping up plastic bottles (she actually utters the words “plastic bottle” while scooping one up), and yet the message she delivered on the video was “Say No to Straws”.  Similarly, another campaign funded by a major bank focused on saying no to paper cups.  The environmental impact of plastic bottles is significantly higher than straws and paper cups. So why would they ignore plastic bottles in favour of straw and cups? The second rule of the game is – follow the money. Straws and cups are unbranded commodity products in a fragmented market and simply don’t generate the same level of profit. In contrast, the top 3 bottled water brands generate significant profits for Hong Kong’s largest listed conglomerates (that have wide-ranging business interests).

Water for Free mobile app 2.0 and its website is self and crowd-funded, and is operated and managed by volunteers.  We expressly target big corporations that sell bottled water and MTR which benefits financially from the sale of bottled water inside MTR station.   This is David vs Goliath, and we invite all of you to join and be David.

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